Furious campaigners brand Fareham Borough Council 'a threat to democracy' after planning shake-up for 800 homes
UNELECTED civil servants are being made ‘judge and jury’ in a council’s planning process to build more than 800 homes, furious residents have warned.
Conservation groups now fear ‘democracy is under threat’ at Fareham Borough Council after councillors backed proposals giving a senior officer the power to decide a dozen contentious housing developments across the area.
The sites, which have all previously been debated by the planning committee and approved by councillors, were placed on hold due to concerns over nitrate pollution in the Solent.
Council chiefs at the Tory-led authority insisted the new measure was only a temporary solution and said Fareham’s overall planning process remained unchanged.
However, campaigners are adamant all the planning applications should be judged before a committee once again and putting their fates in the hands of a single unelected official was wrong.
Retired teacher Chris Wilkinson, chairman of the Conserving Habitats in Portchester group, said: ‘This is taking power away from a democratically-elected committee and sidelining it out of the public eye. That’s a very dangerous precedent to set. It’s undemocratic.’
The scheme of delegation to allow an Fareham’s head of development management, Lee Smith, to move the applications forward was agreed last night.
An amendment tabled by Liberal Democrats to throw out the change was rejected during a vote.
Councillor Roger Price, Fareham’s Lib Dem leader, was furious and said: ‘This is totally undemocratic. It’s allowing the officers to be judge and jury. That’s totally and utterly wrong.’
But Tory council leader, Sean Woodward shrugged off the claims.
He said out of the 12 applications, eight were outline planning bids – meaning they would still come back to the planning committee once they reached their detailed design stage.
Insisting the delegated change was only a temporary measure applying specifically to the dozen nitrate-delayed proposals, he added: ‘What these people are saying is completely wrong and mischievous.
‘There is no change to anything. All 12 have been to the planning committee on at least three occasions. Many people have had the chance to debate them and make deputations.
‘The fact is 90 per cent of applications are decided by officers and never go to the planning committee.’
He added: ‘These applications have had more scrutiny than 90 per cent of planning applications dealt with by the council.’
Richard Jolly, Fareham’s director of planning and regeneration, added: ‘The authority delegated to the head of development management allows the council to issue planning permissions only when the council is fully satisfied that there would be no likely significant effects upon these important sites in the Solent and Natural England agree.
‘To be clear, the delegation to officers only relates to 12 planning applications that the planning committee have previously considered and already voted to grant planning permission for.’